Web Design Pricing is full of all kinds of variability.
Have you ever needed a website and reached out to multiple design and development firms only to see an enormous variance in price between competing companies? You may wonder why some prices are so low, and others are so high. While two different agencies (we will use the word agency in this post, even though you could be dealing with a freelancer, a small team, or even a full-blown marketing agency) may charge differing rates for the same job, there are a lot of factors at play that determine what goes on the bottom line of that proposal. In this post, we'll do our best to lay that out for you to understand better why you might have a $500 or $5,000 quote for what seems to be the same work.
The first thing to consider when determining a price for your website is the scope of the site. If you're getting two different proposals, the scope SHOULD be the same, but it may not. Ideally, you want an apples-to-apples comparison. The things you should consider>
- The sitemap – do both proposals include roughly the same number and complexity of pages?
- Other services – do you require domain registration, hosting, and ongoing support? Do both quotes include the same services?
- Licenses – Some intellectual properties may require licenses. These licenses may include plugins, stock photos, third-party services, etc. What licenses does the proposal include or not include?
Once you make sure you are accounting for variations in the project size, you can better understand what you'll pay one agency vs. another. Now, that isn't to say that all things are equal; there are several areas where pricing can diverge quite sharply.
There are a few things I would want to know about the design philosophy of the agencies from which I am requesting a proposal. The first thing is if they do good work. Any agency worth their salt will provide you with examples of their work. You can get an idea of their design style and if they can do an excellent job on your project. See if you can see the site live rather than just images. Visit and interact with the site and see if it is easy to navigate if the various calls to action are easy to find, and if the customer journey makes sense.
UI (user interface) is the easiest part of the design to see, but UX (user experience) often has a more significant bearing on how the site performs. A website that is pretty but where getting around is difficult and unintuitive will not convert customers.
A second design consideration is whether the design is a pre-made template or completely custom. A custom (or sometimes called bespoke) design is more work than simply taking a template and modifying it. Still, it ensures you get a design appropriate for what you need/want rather than trying to shoehorn your requirements into an existing design.
Templated designs are suitable for saving some time and money, but you could also come across another website that looks just like yours. It could even be a competitor.
Most sites these days take advantage of a content management system, a piece of software that runs on the web server, allowing you to build dynamic websites. Some of these are aimed at the DIY customer and provide a range of templates and a limited tool set. You may have seen ads for products like Squarespace or Wix, which are great for budget-conscious businesses that don't require much custom functionality and are happy to use an existing template.
Most agencies will steer clear of DIY website builders because they are aimed at lower-end projects and are incapable of more advanced functionality. Most agencies will use a more powerful CMS such as WordPress (but not from WordPress.com) or WebFlow. While WordPress can be easy to use, it has an immense community of developers who have been developing themes and plugins, making it a giant in the space.
Some websites are just more straightforward than others to build. A brochure website is relatively simple because there is not a lot of visitor interaction compared to a site where people make purchases or sign in for content. As a rule, the more visitor interaction you need, the more it will cost.
You may also find that items that more closely resemble everyday use cases are more affordable than those that do not. For example, a website for a golf course that allows a person to book a tee time is commonplace, and therefore, there are likely many different off-the-shelf solutions available. A website enabling you to "choose your own cheese-venture" booking a tasting of various funky cheeses a charcuterie is probably a little more outside of the box. It will require a lot of additional work to execute
We've used the term agency loosely. You can deal with various service providers with differing experience levels, sizes, and locations.
Size of Company
The size of the company you work with will have much to do with pricing. A one-person freelancer will have a much lower overhead cost than an agency with 20 employees. Generally speaking, the larger the company, the higher the price. It may seem like a no-brainer to go with as small a company as possible, but there is a trade-off. Larger organizations will possess a broader range of skills. They can provide better coverage when things get hectic, or the principal goes on vacation (or is hit by that proverbial bus).
When dealing with freelancers, you can deal with very little to many years of experience. Someone just starting out will usually charge a lot less as they build their client base and portfolio, while a more experienced hand will charge more because they know what they can and cannot do and have learned to work more efficiently and sustainably.
Location of the Company
Along with company size, company location will also play a role in pricing. An agency in a large urban center will cost more than one in a more rural area since the cost of living is much higher. Also, agencies overseas may be very competitive in pricing if you can get past communication problems from language barriers and time-zone differences. One caution about using agencies in low-income countries is that this commoditization of the work generally leads to poor quality work-product, as the business incentivizes volume over quality.
It can be easy to focus on what you can see and lose sight of some less obvious but essential variables. These are easy to skimp on in a race to the bottom regarding pricing. They won't change your site's appearance, but they can carry substantial weight regarding its performance. Some additional considerations are:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
A website built with search engines in mind will be easy for web crawlers to index, structured to make information easy to find and that the content loads quickly and securely. Much of this has to do with the minutia of the code, so it can be challenging to evaluate with the naked eye. A higher-priced agency may spend more time ensuring that they include alternate text on images (so screen readers and web crawlers know what images are depicting), Aria labels (contextual labels in the code), semantic tags, correct heading structure, and more.
Accessibility refers to your site being usable for those with disabilities. Accessibility includes keyboard-only navigation, proper code structure, variable font sizes, sufficient contrast between text and backgrounds, etc. Taking the time to follow best practices will increase the cost. Still, it can prevent barriers to site use by those with disabilities or who may be using assistive technologies and can keep you from being out of compliance with various legal requirements.
Scalability & Maintainabillity
A website is not static; it will continue growing and evolving. A website that always stays the same is easy to build, but a website that is easy to change is more complicated. Designing sites with scalability and maintainability requires a more methodical building process, which takes more time on the front end but can save time and headaches later.
One good example of this is a website with a team page.
If that team always stays the same, it's not a big deal, but in the real world, people come and go, change their positions, and want new photos. A developer can build the page quickly, which means making changes is a hassle. They can build it so that you need only fill out a form to add a new team member. If you, as the client, can add new team members efficiently, it is worth more than if you must go back to the developer for every little change.
When looking at your next web design project, you must balance several critical factors in your decision-making process. It is unlikely you have limitless resources, so budget does matter, but going with the lowest bidder may not be a viable solution either. If you want a website that will perform well and last more than a year or two, you should also balance other considerations. Please take the information from this post and be a more informed consumer when choosing your next web design agency.
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